I don't know how closely everyone is following this story, so I'll start at the beginning.
Sunday, Zack Greinke walked out of Royals camp in Surprise, Arizona. According to some sources, Greinke was deeply unenthusiastic at practice on Saturday, and had to be cajoled into participating in team activites. Family members reached by ESPN and the Kansas City Star have declined comment. The only reason manager Buddy Bell and GM Allard Baird will give for Greinke's (excused) absence is "personal matters."
Greinke is the Kansas City version of Jeff Francis, a precocious pitching talent upon whom much of his franchise's future hope rests. Drafted sixth overall in 2002, the righthander rocketed through the minors and made it to the majors in time to pitch 145 innings in 2004. His numbers were extremely promising: 8-11, 3.97 ERA, 1.17 WHIP. Then last year he regressed: 5.80 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 183 innings. His 17 losses (against five wins) were an American League high. Never much of a strikeout pitcher (5.8 K/9 in '04, 5.3 in '05), Greinke's average allowed jumped from .256 to .309, no doubt thanks in part to a team behind him that ranked dead last in defensive efficiency last year.
So what is Zack Greinke's problem? It's not drugs, is all Allard Baird will say, besides "there is no timetable for his return." Bell: "We're going about it, quite frankly, that Zack is not going to be here in time to get ready for the rotation. We pretty much are preparing for the worst right now. That could change. I don't think it will."
If you were inclined to go looking for "clues" in the scouting material published about Greinke over the years, you would find some eyebrow-raising things. In 2003, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook wrote of Greinke: "a workaholic who studies hitters and figures to succeed with his intellect and command." The 2005 Baseball Prospectus rhapsodizes, "we have seen the future of pitching, and his name is Zack Greinke," and goes on at length about the then-21-year-old's artistry at changing speeds and inventing new pitches to keep hitters off-balance. But suddenly the tone changes in the 2006 Baseball Register: "At times seems bored on the mound." OK, let's take a moment to wildly speculate. Has being stuck with the Royals stolen Zack Greinke's passion for the game?
This would be an alarming precedent indeed, were Greinke's "personal issues" specifically linked to pitching for Kansas City as opposed to just pitching in general. The NFL and NBA certainly see their fair share of athletes dogging it or flat-out refusing to play for certain teams -- see Jim Jackson, Vince Carter, or Terrell Owens. We have even seen just-drafted players manipulate their ways out of undesirable situations, as did Kobe Bryant with Charlotte, or more recently Eli Manning with the Chargers. But baseball, for whatever reason, has been relatively free of this sort of problem, which when you think of it is kind of surprising given how long MLB organizations have control over their drafted players compared to franchises in the other major team sports. Perhaps it's because most pro ballplayers have to spend several years in the minors before they surface in The Show, engendering both loyalty to their organization and appreciation for the opportunity to play for any big league team (even the Royals). Greinke, of course, spent a microscopic amount of time in the minors (180 innings).
Of course, there are a multitude of reasons other than "sick of Kansas City" why Zack Greinke might have chosen to give spring training a miss. For the time being, neither Bell nor Baird nor Greinke himself are talking. If word leaks out that the Royals are looking to trade their putative ace, we'll have a lot more to go on. I wouldn't advise the Rockies to start thinking of an offer package, however, because I highly doubt Greinke would like playing in Coors Field any more than he likes playing in front of the Royals' defense.